We train and pursue educational opportunities to achieve specific career goals. The student interested in working with elderly patients logically seeks training relevant to gerontological issues, and programs interested in attracting students who wish to work with persons with dementia of the Alzheimer’s type will create didactic, experiential, and research training opportunities specific to the needs of students interested in this area. It is no different for students interested in working in legal and law-related settings. In this section, we describe the most common training goals in forensic psychology.
One of the more common training goals for general clinical psychology programs is the development of scientist-practitioners based on the Boulder model (American Psychological Committee on Training in Clinical Psychology, 1947; Peterson & Park, 2005). Under this paradigm, an individual is trained first and foremost as a scientist versed in the critical thinking skills, hypothesis testing, research methodologies, and techniques that are specific to the science of psychology. In addition, these individuals are instructed, trained, and mentored to apply the existing and most current psychological research findings in their assessment and treatment activities. Successful completion of this training is recognized by attainment of a doctor of philosophy degree (PhD) in psychology.
Clinical psychologists trained as scientist-practitioners in forensic psychology should be competent in four areas:
- Conducting research on forensic topics
- Identifying, keeping abreast of, and evaluating the scientific research and professional literatures specific to various areas of forensic practice
- Implementing the most scientifically appropriate assessment or treatment techniques for a particular case while at the same time being aware of the limitations of the chosen techniques
- Recognizing when no scientifically valid technique exists for a particular issue or question
Some PhD and most PsyD programs deemphasize the scientific component of their clinical training and replace it with more practice-focused didactic and experiential training. Such programs are designed primarily to train students to become clinical practitioners and consultants to the courts, and they produce fewer graduates who are likely to seek employment in research and/or academic settings. As such, trainees from these programs often (a) graduate with more hands-on clinical training experiences; (b) have had more classes devoted specifically to clinical practice issues; and (c) have had more clinical opportunities to practice their clinical skills on real-world populations. These students, however, spend less time conducting research and have fewer courses directly addressing the design, methodology, analysis, and evaluation of forensic psychology research.
Arguably, individuals receiving this type of training are better prepared to provide clinical services than students who have received less education and training focused on practice issues. Yet the argument is refutable if the discipline of psychology is to be built on knowledge of the science of human behavior. To respond to this concern, faculty who focus on training practitioners endeavor to teach their students how to be effective consumers of scientific research. To date, little research exists examining how the more practice-oriented training inherent in these programs affects actual practice competence, and no such research exists in the forensic psychological area. As a result, controversy still exists regarding the benefits and limits of professionally focused training, with advocates on both sides suggesting the superiority of their model for training clinical practitioners (Peterson, 2003).
Nonclinical and Clinical Scientist-Scholar
Not all psychologists are clinically trained and licensure-eligible for clinical practice. Training programs in cognitive, developmental, and social psychology, to name just a few of the subfields of psychology, are also widely available. Through a series of didactic and intensive research experiences, these programs produce PhD psychologists whose focus is research and/or teaching and typically work in academic settings, research laboratories, and industry settings.
It is no different in forensic psychology. Although most forensic psychologists are interested in the assessment and treatment of forensic-clinical populations, many nonclinical forensic psychologists have been trained to pursue careers as scientist-scholars constantly trying to expand the boundaries of our forensic knowledge.
Given the importance of the scientific foundation for understanding human behavior in legal settings (e.g., jury decision making) and for improving the structure and administration of law (Sales, 1983), this type of forensic training is prominent at many universities.
Similarly, there are clinically trained forensic psychologists who, while able to offer assessment and treatment services, do not focus their careers on these practices. These individuals critically analyze and synthesize existing research and carry out new research on clinical forensic topics, so that their colleagues are aware of the state of the science in clinical forensic practice. For example, the most recent advances in risk assessment central to legal decisions on civil commitment, execution (in states that use dangerousness as a criteria), and postconviction confinement of sexual predators have been completed by such scholars (e.g., Monahan et al., 2002).
The training goals within this category are not uniform or unitary. Students need to be trained in two very different kinds of academic skills to carry out this type of work: scientist and scholar.
Training for a career as an empirical researcher requires rigorous, didactic, and experiential training in theory, hypothesis generation, methodology, data analytic techniques, and interpretation of findings. These educational experiences are common to all branches of scientific psychology. Although the goal is to produce graduates who design and carry out their own research in the future, the specific types of research that this training prepares one for differ across programs. For example, not all scientists design or carry out their research for forensic purposes. In United States v. Virginia (1996), the U.S. Supreme Court had to decide on the constitutionality of the State of Virginia maintaining an all-male military college—the Virginia Military Institute (VMI). As part of its decision, the Court considered research on the psychological effects of females receiving education in a single-gender versus coeducational environment. Although this research was conducted because of the researchers interest in social development and gender studies, its application to the legal question at issue in the VMI case makes this research forensically relevant work (English & Sales, 2005).
Not surprisingly, nonforensic psychological researchers can find their work being used in litigation or policy decision making across numerous issues. For example, research on child development can be used in the drafting of educational legislation, while social psychological studies of gender stereotyping can be used in sex harassment lawsuits (e.g., Harris v. Forklift, 1993). Training psychologists for a nonforensic scientific career, even though the products of the subsequent research may have unanticipated forensic uses, is not an uncommon aspiration of traditional PhD programs.
But an increasing number of PhD programs are offering students the opportunity to specialize in forensically relevant research. This training can include basic, policy-driven, legally driven, or litigation-driven research. Basic forensic studies seek to expand our knowledge of forensic psychological phenomena (e.g., cognitive biases in judicial decision making; see, e.g., Krauss, 2004) or techniques (e.g., research on assessment of dangerousness; see, e.g., Quinsey, Harris, Rice, & Cormier, 2006). Policy-, law-, or litigation-driven forensic research is designed and carried out to answer specific questions posed by a specific policy or legal question. For example, in Lockhart v. McCree (1986), researchers attempted to demonstrate that the process of death-qualifying juries (jurors who were morally opposed and could not sentence a defendant to the death penalty were dismissed from both phases of the trial) in a capital hearing case created an unconstitutionally biased jury in favor of the prosecution for the guilt/innocence phase of the trial. While the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court was unpersuaded by this research for both methodological and legal reasons, the research presented to the Court was undertaken specifically to address these questions that were left open by the Court s earlier decision in Witherspoon v. Illinois (1968).
Training for forensic psychological research competency requires more than training in science, however. In order for forensic psychological research to be useful to the law (e.g., courts) or policy makers (e.g., legislators), it must both be relevant to the legal questions being adjudicated or considered and be sufficiently tied to issues under dispute or consideration in a particular case, statute, or policy. The importance of these considerations has been made explicitly clear with regard to the introduction of scientific evidence in the federal courts and in the majority of state courts (e.g., Sales & Shuman, 2005). The U.S. Supreme Court, in Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, Inc. (1993), adopted relevancy and fit requirements for the admissibility of scientific expert testimony at trial. In describing the importance of the fit between the science being offered and the legal question being asked, the Court noted that “scientific validity for one purpose is not necessarily scientific validity for other, unrelated purposes” (p. 2796). Daubert and two subsequent cases (General Electric Co. v. Joiner, 1997, and Kumho Tire Company v. Carmichael, 1999) have held that federal trial court judges must evaluate the reliability, relevancy, and fit of proffered expert testimony and research and reject evidence that does not meet these criteria (Krauss, Cassar, & Strother, 2009).
Because Daubert controls only decision making in the federal courts, it technically is not required to be used in considering the admissibility of expert evidence in state courts, before state and federal legislatures, or by administrative agencies. The Daubert logic should be applicable, however, to studying any issue or question in the law (e.g., Schopp, 2001). Indeed, the majority of states have adopted the federal rule concerning the admissibility of expert evidence into their state rules of evidence (although a significant minority of states have not adopted Daubert s holding, and still others use only parts of Daubert and its progeny s [i.e., Joiner and Kumho] admissibility standards) (Sales & Shuman, 2005). Forensic psychological researchers need to understand the law that provides the issues and questions they wish to study. Not to answer the questions posed by the court will likely result in the findings of forensic psychological scientists having little legal relevance and value to the court (e.g., for a review of the problems inherent in psychological research and expert testimony on child custody determinations, see Krauss & Sales, 2000).
Designing and executing research is only part of the skill set that is required of individuals who are attempting to influence a field. It is also important that scholars be able to critically evaluate existing theory and research, identify where the field is weak, and point where theory and research needs to be directed. For example, divorce mediation, which is prevalent throughout the United States, is touted as an alternative dispute resolution system that offers substantial benefits for avoiding common disputes that arise during marital dissolution through the legal system. After critically reviewing the extensive empirical literature on divorce mediation, however, Beck and Sales (2001) concluded that most of the benefits associated with divorce mediation are not yet supported due to a host of legal, theoretical, methodological, and statistical weaknesses in the research literature. Research evidence also suggests that some of mediation s touted benefits are false. Training in scholarly skills is particularly important in order to produce individuals who can generate a critical understanding of the state of the science on any forensic topic and redirect the field when that science is inadequate to significantly advance its knowledge or practice (e.g., Findley & Sales, 2012).
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